August 21: Samarkand, Uzbekistan
8:10 We are about to check out of the Konstantin Hotel in Samarkand and set out for Nurata where we will stay at a yurt camp for one night.
1:10 After an uneventful morning we stop for lunch in the dusty, rubble-strewn town of Nurata. Our guide has arranged for a local family to provide lunch in their private courtyard. It doesn’t look like much from the outside but inside the gates we find a lush garden, several tall shade trees, trellises laden with grapes, and a long table set for 24 with the distinctive blue and gold dishes that are common in Uzbekistan. Lunch consists of four different salads, warm bread, mushroom soup, grilled zucchini roll-ups, steamed dumplings, yogurt, and trays of mixed nuts, dried apricots, and plump raisins. After lunch we step out into the back alley and encounter three young boys who at first appear to be up to no good. It turns out that they each have a white dove in their hands. After posting for a number of photos the oldest one tells us to make a wish and in unison the boys throw their doves up in the air. The doves circle a few times before flying over the building and out of sight. The boys are genuinely surprised when I hand them each a 5000 com note (about $1.20 Canadian). One boy even tries to give it back. I don’t imagine they do this sort of thing every day as there simply aren’t many tourists in these parts.
14:30 The truck stops in the centre of town and most of the group trudges up a steep hill to view a sacred fish that is said to reside in a natural spring. Four of us aren’t all that excited about the prospects of standing in the baking sun and staring at listless carp so we elect to lounge around in the shade of the truck. I notice a large group of kids kicking stones down the dusty main street. Three of them are eating ice cream. As they draw closer I wonder out loud how young kids in such an impoverished town can afford to eat what appear to be Haagen Dazs bars? It’s not until they’re right across the street from of us that it dawns on me that I bought that ice cream. These are the boys that had released the doves at our lunch stop.
16:00 We have settled into a yurt camp where we will stay for the night. The operator provides dinner which is almost identical to what we had for lunch, only here the bread is stale. Several large bottles of vodka have been placed on each table. That’s about the last thing I remember about August 21.